Reach out: how to ask for help when you need it

Asking for help is something many people struggle with, but seniors often seem to have the hardest time reaching out when they’re in need of help.

There are many reasons why this can be an issue for an older person. We don’t want to feel like we’re a burden, we don’t want to bother people who already have a lot going on in their own lives, we may worry that if we ask for help doing something we used to be able to do, we’ll never be able to do it again; or we see asking for help as the first step in losing the independence we’ve had all of our lives. It might even be as simple as not trusting the helper to do the task the way we’ve always done it.

Whatever the reason for the reluctance, it’s important to try to figure out a way to put those concerns aside—because asking for help when you need it can mean that you’re actually preserving your independence. For instance, if you can no longer manage grocery shopping on your own, your choices are to move into assisted living where your meals are prepared for you, or to ask someone to help you with this weekly task. If you feel that it’s time to move into a retirement residence, that’s great! But if you really do want to age in place, reaching out to get someone to help you with your groceries means you can continue living in the home you love.

Think about why you are reluctant to ask for help, and be brutally honest with yourself. Once you’ve determined why it’s so difficult for you, figure out if you can adjust your perspective by listing the pros and cons of seeing help.

If you need a light bulb changed but can’t safely get up a ladder to do it, for example, your pros and cons list might look like this:


  • I won’t have to risk falling and breaking an arm or my hip
  • My house will be properly lit, and that can help reduce trips and falls
  • My friend/family member may be able to help me with a few other simple tasks while they are here
  • I’ll have company for a few minutes


  • I’ll have to wait until my friend/family member is available to help me
  • I’m going to feel embarrassed that I can’t do this once-simple task myself

Usually it becomes clear that asking for help really is the best option, even if it’s still not something you’re completely comfortable doing.

Try to remember that people truly do want to help. It makes us feel good to be needed, and there can be a special pride in knowing that you were chosen to be the one to help with a certain task. Your family and friends care about you, and doing whatever they can to help you continue to live a safe, happy life as you age is important to them.

If you don’t have a lot of family or friends close by, it’s possible to get the additional support you need from professionals. Yes, there is usually a cost involved, but there are programs and services to support aging in place offered by your local and provincial, territorial or state governments. Visit their websites and search for seniors’ resources and programs.

If possible, spread your requests out by asking different trusted friends or family members instead of just the same person all the time. This will make it feel less like you’re burdening one person (even though no one is likely to feel that you are!), and it will expand your own sense of community when you know that there are multiple people who are willing and able to help you out.

Finally, when you can, give help back—even in small ways. You’ll be able to experience the joy and satisfaction that helping brings, and you’ll see that being asked for help and being able to give it when it’s needed is a truly wonderful thing. Visit to find out about volunteer opportunities right in your own community, or simply make yourself available to do what you can for those around you.  You might not be able to help a friend move or drive your neighbor to the airport, but you can be a shoulder to cry on, a trusted confidante, an educator, or a source of wisdom if anyone is in need.

We can all help, and sometimes simply being there is one of the biggest ways to give someone the support they need.

417943C CAN/US 01/20

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